Waste and a loss of vision

So, almost half the food in the UK is not eaten, but thrown away. Mind boggling. I haven't read the report, just caught the news headlines, but the basic case is fairly clear. There is massive waste of food, some 4.4m tons of food a year in the UK. It makes me think of some other bits and pieces, so let me set those connections out clearly.

1. In the UK we now have reports of a rapid rise in the number of people visiting food banks because they cannot feed themselves and their families. Yet half the food in the UK is thrown away.
2. Starvation in the developing world affects millions every day, while the crop failures that often cause them are blamed by some on the development of booster crops created to meet the high demand for more food in places such as the UK.
3. Ecologists and environmentalists give out constant warnings about the way in which we are plundering our planet in unsustainable ways. This includes the way in which new ways of growing food, for example factory farming, and genetically modified crops, are claimed to damage the planet, developments made specifically to address the demand for more food in... places such as the UK.
4. Policies supporting abortion, contraception etc. are proposed by varous groups in the UK for various reasons, including the argument that at current levels of population growth the planet cannot feed itself.

Nor should we forget that 2/3 of the world's resources are consumed by places such as the UK. If we extrapolate the statistic about UK food waste to other developed nations, that means a third of the world's resources are wasted. That is the same amount as the rest of the world lives off.

Another way to put this is: insanity.

But why should this trouble an iconographer?

Well, iconographer's are incarnationalists. That is we deal with the world of matter, created things, the world God created through the prism of God becoming flesh, part of the material, created world. Food is part of this material world. And how we use the material world is part of the vision which the iconographer brings to his work.

Christian culture shares this mentality; iconography is one of the forms by which Christian culture is shared, interiorised, developed. The debates about the the place of icons in Christian churches, which plunged the Byzantine world in the 8th to 9th century of ferocious controversy known as iconoclasm,  largely addressed the way in which Christianity related to this material world. This in turn built on the Christological debates around the way in which we can understand how the uncreated God could become part of creation.

The fruit of all of that theological thinking was a very profound view of what the material world is, a reality sustained by God, graced by God, of immense potential through transfiguration. Such saints as Francis of Assisi or Seraphim of Sarov lived this vision in a profound intimacy with the created cosmos. One fruit of this was an ability to relate to animals. One recent holy man, Paisios a monk of Mount Athos, would feed ants and snakes, who showed no fear or hostility to him. These holy men and women have often been ascetics, people who have reached a level of detachment from the material world, yet out of that freedom gained a deeper connection and love for it.

Exploitation of the environment, a reckless disregard for the sacred potential of the created world, is something that strikes against the very essence of iconography.

So this waste of food has me thinking and asking myself some hard questions. Because I waste food, buying things which only get thrown away. I am part of this massive problem. And I am supposed to have a transfigured relationship with the material world, to be an apostle of that transfigured relationship. And I obviously have lost that vision when it comes to my food. And that is a profound dislocation in my spiritual life. So, I guess I should do something about it.

Part of that is to re-gain the sense of connection between the food I buy, grow, eat with God, as sustaining it, willing it into being, leaving something of His own goodness as a sort of trace which glorifies Him. This goes back to some of what I wrote in the first post, about living with a consciousness of the immanence of God. And that includes in my food! Bringing my prayer into my food, not 'saying grace' as a mechanic, but a sense of wonder at its goodness: its colour, taste, nutritional value by which God is present to me.

Another aspect is to develop more keenly an ascetic sense. In the contemporary world we have what we want and without limits - this is seen as freedom. Yet we have addictions at every level of our existence as a result, be it to chocolate or sex. Pleasure rules us, demands of us, cajoles us, leaves us happy for a moment and desperate the next, without peace, without tranquillity in ourselves or in our relationship with the world around us. It is perhaps one of the most serious mistakes of the Catholic Church in modern times that just as the western world was gaining unlimited access to material sources of pleasure it all but abandoned any serious teaching or practice on fasting. It is also interesting that in the eastern Churches that has not been the case, and the the Ecumenical Patriarchs have been at the forefront of developing a spirituality of ecology in response to the threats to our planet. Asceticism is something which binds the mind of Christ about matter into reality, into the way we interact with matter including the matter of our own bodies, and with that what we feed and stimulate it with. So, I guess I should take another look at my ascetical discipline too!

All of which should help deepen a suitable iconographer's mentality!


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